Incredulity and Calm Marked V-E Day

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Contributing Writer
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist

With the recent passing of the 78th anniversary of V-E (Victory in Europe) Day on May 8, 1945 that marked the end of WW II in Europe and consequently the defeat and unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, many of us might think that there was an overwhelming celebration of victory in the face of such horrendous carnage that had taken place throughout Europe. But headlines on the front page of the Second Section of the May 8, 1945 Jamestown Post Journal proclaimed otherwise: “V-E Arrival Finds City Calm, Solemn” and “Church Doors Open for V-Day Devout.”

Although V-E Day means Victory in Europe, the Post Journal refreshed the minds of the public by stating that a “different construction has been placed on the designation –V-E Day to be the day set aside artificially for the celebration and observance rather than the day victory was actually achieved.” In fact, the May 7, 1945 issue of the city’s major newspaper had run a Post Journal extra edition when the official capitulation of Germany’s war machine came off the telegraph wires and was transmitted into type. But there were mixed reactions at this news among Jamestonians: incredulity, apathy, shouts of joy, heartfelt tears especially for the deaths of 126 sons of Jamestown since December 7, 1941, and the expressions of service men themselves who were conservative in their appraisal of the news because those who had to continue to serve and those who were about to serve did not forget that there was still a war going on in the Pacific against the Japanese forces. That seemed reason enough for some Jamestonians to delay a victory celebration. And possibly the fact that the message of the actual war’s end had not been officially confirmed by President Harry S. Truman certainly had something to do with the reaction.

Instead of jubilation, a spirit of thankfulness and prayer swept the city as it made preparations for services in schools and churches. The morning of May 8, 1945 beheld many of the city’s citizens undivided in their attention to the radio messages of President Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Portable radio receivers made their appearances almost without exception in many business establishments with all work stopped at 9 a.m. when the President of the United States issued his proclamation followed by a message from the Prime Minister. It was also reported that no where was a “holiday spirit during the broadcast of speeches.” Instead the listening audience was subdued, bringing a spirit of solemnity and thoughtfulness to the occasion.

In the business office of the Jamestown Telephone Company, the transmission of the President’s message that German armies had surrendered caused two women employees, whose husbands were fighting in the Pacific, to weep unashamedly. As one man exclaimed, “’How can we celebrate this victory when we know that our boys are still fighting a bitter fight on the other side of the world? Let’s get back to work and help bring them home quickly.’” This seemed to be a common feeling among Jamestonians who stayed on the job that day, even though there was talk of some curtailed work activity during the afternoon. Patriotic and compassionate sentiments ran high: “”Sure, I’m going to stay on the job, and I’ll tell you the reason. This morning when I was coming to work I saw a troop train headed west. The train appeared to be crowded with men, and it’s my guess they were not going home. How can I conscientiously quit my job today, although it is V-E Day, knowing that those boys are probably going to the Pacific to fight my fight for me. I’m going to stay on the job as long as they will let me and try to do my job here at home.’” The Retail Merchants’ Association had made the decision to close retail stores at noon so that employees could make early arrangements to attend services held that night.

And, indeed, church doors were opened and there was a mass V-E Day observance at Jamestown High School’s auditorium that evening scheduled for 8:30 p.m. The patriotic rally, which followed ringing church bells as people flocked to their places of worship to offer prayers of thanksgiving that morning and at many 7:30 p.m. services throughout the city, brought together all faiths and denominations. Mayor Samuel Stroth, Rev. William Sutherland of St. John’s R.C. Church, and Rev. Dennis Bouman of Pilgrim Memorial Congregational Church gave addresses. Rev. Dr. Lewis Ward of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church gave the invocation, and the benediction was given by Dr. Hans Kronheim, Rabbi of Temple Hesed Abraham. The Jamestown High School band under the direction of Arthur Goranson furnished musical selections and representatives of the Ira Lou Spring Post, American Legion, presented the colors.

In the midst of such solemnity, there was also a much needed lighter side. In fact, quite literally, with the blessing of the War Production Board but without sanction of the Board of Public Utilities, lights on theater marquees, shop windows, and outdoor advertising signs would blaze that night after the nation-wide brown out order kept the country in virtual darkness as other war time restrictions were relaxed. And, in a moment of jubilation, no matter how short-lived, some Jamestonians just could not resist their own kind of celebration at Clair Newman’s Diner on Washington Street!